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Who’s Next: Five to Watch in 2019 and Beyond

Five racers represent a fresh wave of talent in the National Hot Rod Association. You know some of them, and some you’ll know a lot better coming into the 2019 season.
30 Nov 2018
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
News
Austin Prock

Two rookie of the year winners ended up winning championships in 2018, but not all future stars in the National Hot Rod Association grasp Auto Club of Southern Club Road to the Future Awards. None of the five racers I’m going to pimp today won that prestigious award (because, you know, those people don’t need my help — kidding, kidding, it’s just a coincidence) but they do represent a new era of talent entering the pro ranks of drag racing. 

Let’s get it started with Top Fuel — because I’m doing this list alphabetically, and this guy’s last name starts with an A. No conspiracy theories please. 

Blake Alexander

Yes, you know who he is, but you’re about to know him a lot better. The former Californian, now a Virginian, made waves by racking up multiple wins on a part-time schedule in 2018. He might just do it again in 2019, though it’s fair to ask if a 16-race slate is actually part time in the modern era. His solid reaction times (seventh-best in the class and four-thousandths better than average) and most consistent dragster in the class helped him to a phenomenal season. Expect more of the same next year. 

Joey Gladstone

Let Gladstone be an example for how important equipment is in drag racing. He finished with the second-best reaction times in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but a 3-15 round record. If you think that’s his fault — well, I can’t help it if you don't understand. I’m bad at baseball, and I gave up on blaming my dad for that years ago. Now partnered up with his buddy Cory Reed and Angelle Sampey at Liberty Racing, he’s hoping for better performance out of his motorcycle; if it comes, he’s going to be a threat in 2019. 

Ryan Oehler

One of the most fun stories in Pro Stock Motorcycle is Oehler. He develops his own engine with his dad and a couple of crew guys. He purchased an EBR body for better or for worse (depends on who you ask) and that kind of excitement, drama and investment is good(?) for the class. He didn’t make the Countdown in 2018, but it would shock me if he doesn’t in 2019 now that he has the extra mileage on his bike and a new clutch setup to go with it. If you’re not a Pro Stock Motorcycle fan, it’s your loss. 

Austin Prock

No, he isn’t officially driving in 2019, but if he does, he’s going to be one of the most fun personalities in the sport. He oozes charisma — which is saying something given that his father would rather crush you in a staring contest than talk to you about world politics. One of the fresh faces in Funny Car racing has gotten a fair number of laps in all the John Force Racing floppers and is just waiting for his time to shine. My bet? It’s going to come sooner rather than later. 

Jordan Vandergriff

No, he isn’t related to Blake Alexander. No, he isn’t Bob Vandergriff’s son. Yes, he is going to be very good at driving a Top Fuel dragster. The only real question mark surrounding Bob Vandergriff Racing in 2019: How will it manage fielding two Top Fuel dragsters? It will help that both of its drivers, Alexander and Vandergriff, are very talented. The head crew chief, Ron Douglas, is also very talented. Will that translate into the kind of season we saw out of Alexander in 2018? Maybe not — but it also doesn’t have to. Right now, Vandergriff just needs to roll out and hit the Tree consistently and turn on a few win lights while, you know, wining and dining the sponsors. Just the usual race car stuff.